President Hamid Karzai’s decision to dissolve all private security companies in Afghanistan will not adversely affect the work of NGOs, civil society representatives say.
“The closure of private security companies will have absolutely no impact on NGOs,” Laurent Sailard, director of ACBAR, a coordinating body of over 100 Afghan and foreign relief agencies, told IRIN.
“If all private security companies are shut down tomorrow it will have no negative impact on NGOs but will even have some positive impact given that there will be less armed people around,” said Nic Lee, director of the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO).
Of the 380 organizations receiving free security information from ANSO only a few use private security services, he said. ACBAR also said the few NGOs with links with security firms tended to use their advice rather than armed guards.
However, some private contractors and donor organizations warn they will be unable to work without private security arrangements - something that may indirectly affect the work of some civil society groups.
Some NGOs receive funding from the US Agency for International development (USAID) and other donor agencies and the inability of such donors to monitor projects due to a perceived lack of effective security arrangements, could impact those projects.
By January 2011, all private security companies, except those operating inside embassies, international organizations and foreign military bases, must be dissolved and replaced by Afghan police forces, according to a decree issued by President Karzai on 17 August.
Up to 40,000 Afghans are employed by dozens of security firms, both foreign and local; President Karzai has accused some of colluding with armed opposition groups and criminal gangs.
US government agencies and contractors are the biggest users of private security services in Afghanistan, and the US government, which is also the biggest donor to Afghanistan, has asked Karzai to consider compromises to avoid disrupting projects.
“We recognize that there’s a gap that presently exists, and we are working through - with the Afghan government and others within the international community - to try to figure out how to help Afghanistan implement its decree, but at the same time make sure that essential operations continue to function,” Philip J. Crowley, assistant secretary in the US State Department, told reporters on 22 October.
Karzai responded in a 20 October speech: “Our foreign friends should not come asking us to allow these companies to continue their activities… Instead, they should help strengthen our police.”
Providing security for diplomats and aid workers, including UN employees, is primarily the responsibility of the Afghan government, experts say.
However, the fledging Afghan security forces, particularly the police, are not trusted by foreign diplomatic and development entities which prefer to hire private international guards.
Some UN agencies have also hired private international guards at their offices in Kabul and elsewhere in the country. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy, paid tribute to “internal international security guards for their bravery and courage” after an attack on a UN office in Herat Province on 23 October.
“There is a misunderstanding about NGOs and private contractors and companies,” said ACBAR’s Sailard: Media reports suggesting NGOs would be unable to work without private security companies were “misinformation and erroneous”.
NGOs are non-profit and operate according to humanitarian principles, but there are also numerous for-profit contractors which carry out rebuilding and development services for the military or a belligerent government, he said.
NGOs have a long history of work in Afghanistan but private security companies have mushroomed only in the past nine years, aid workers say.
“NGOs don’t use weapons and don’t hire armed guards for security,” said ANSO’s Nic Lee.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions